Gosh I remember the fun times I had watching The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dressup and Sesame Street while growing up in a typical 70’s suburban home in Montreal. With its lively characters and amusing stories the CBC programs taught me English without any inkling on my part that I was being educated. I can’t say I watched the CBC during high school and afterwards. Other than the Olympics and hockey games, I don’t have any nostalgic CBC recollections. I was hooked on American offerings like All in The Family and Mary Tyler Moore. Why was that I wondered?
The answer dawned on me after reading “The Tower of Babble” by former CBC executive Richard Stursberg. I devoured this book in a weekend and it's my favourite read so far this summer. I loved it for 3 reasons. First, it’s one of the best memoirs for an insider’s view of executive decision making in a large bureaucratic corporation. I was shocked by how candid he was. There’s no sugar coating here. I know there are 2 sides to every story but the conflicts, frustrations and reflections seemed sincere and well balanced. The clarity with which the author presents the issues at hand and his strategic proposals to turn the CBC around is top notch. Memoir? Cripes I’d recommend it as a business book for lessons on change management.
Second; it deals with Canada and its culture. I don’t live in Quebec anymore but as a French Canadian I’m always fascinated by the ongoing French/English battles in the media and how political parties use it to their advantage. It’s no secret that there’s been a rise in public opinion questioning the CBC’s existence. The author recaps the key turning points in Canada’s media landscape within the last 15 years and does not hesitate to explain their root causes. He even takes a stab at predicting its future. It’s a very timely book considering how quickly the media business is changing these days.
Lastly, it’s well written and an entertaining read. I was stunned to read in his acknowledgments that it’s his first book. Any reader with an interest in Canadian cultural identity, the CBC or politics would appreciate it. I’ve read many memoirs from former business executives and unfortunately many of them bear a resemblance to a resume dressed up by a ghostwriter with a passionate divorce or love affair thrown in for good measure. This one feels authentic and sticks to the topic of business. Bravo for that!
Nowadays I regularly watch George S., Rick Mercer and even get sucked into Heartland every once in a while. My CBC viewing is a lot more than it was 10 years ago, a substantial increase considering I have access to hundreds of channels instead of the four I grew up with. What can I say? I enjoy stories based on Canadian lives and landscapes. I can’t get that on HBO. It’s remarkable to discover that these programs exist due to plans drawn up by the author and implemented under his leadership. His approach was simple really. Put on shows that Canadians want to watch but the US doesn’t deliver. Let’s hope his vision will continue despite his voluntary exit from iconic cultural institution. Otherwise I’m switching channels and hanging on to my tax dollars!
5 stars out of 5 (*****)